Political student groups gear up for 2020 election

While the College Republicans and the Collegiate Group for Trump have united in supporting the president’s reelection bid, Democratic groups are split in their support.

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Parker Johnson

College Republicans President Kirby Gibson poses outside Johnson Hall on Sunday, Sep. 20. Gibson is looking at alternative ways to mobilize and promote campaigns now that safety concerns discourage in-person meetings.

Jasmine Snow, City Reporter

After a crowded campaigning season, political groups on campus are beginning to buckle down for the 2020 presidential election.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and a chaotic Democratic run-up, University of Minnesota political student groups are pushing to mobilize in the Zoom era. While the conservative groups have endorsed President Donald Trump, groups on the left have taken varied stances on the upcoming election.

Following most Democratic candidates’ slow withdrawal from the race, University groups have either dissolved or pooled their resources together to support the Joe Biden and Kamala Harris ticket.

Despite Elizabeth Warren’s withdrawal in March, past and present members of Students for Warren still heavily mobilize support for other Democratic candidates both locally and nationally. According to Students for Warren President Kyle Sorbe, the group has endorsed Joe Biden, Senator Tina Smith, Rep. Angie Craig and Rep. Ilhan Omar in their election or reelection bids.

Sorbe said that while many members of the group would rather vote for more progressive candidates, the group is willing to make sacrifices in the name of political strategy.

“I think that the overarching mantra, now that progressives have dropped out of the presidential race, is that progressive ideas can’t get done if we don’t flip the Senate,” Sorbe said. “That’s definitely one of the main drivers for a lot of our members.”

According to Students for Pete Buttigieg President Rosemary Patton, the group supporting presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg’s campaign has mostly dissolved at this point, but its members still strongly support Democratic candidates. The group was in the process of transitioning support to the Biden bid shortly after Buttigieg dropped out.

Students for Bernie, one of the largest University Democratic groups, has not officially endorsed any candidate yet.

After helping to secure Sanders’ primary win on-campus and at surrounding precincts in March, Chair Sean Lim said that the platform differences between Biden and Sen. Sanders are too different to justify an automatic endorsement from the group. They’ve now pivoted toward promoting voter turnout.

“Although we haven’t formally endorsed as a group yet, it is absolutely crucial that we get folks out and voting in this election on the issues that affect them,” Lim said.

Lim said that the group has since dispersed and spread resources elsewhere, like working for the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party and other campaigns. Group leaders are now having discussions about what to do next.

The College Republicans and the Collegiate Group for Trump are endorsing the president’s reelection bid. According to College Republicans President Kirby Gibson, the two groups have merged in their support of the president and have pooled their resources. The groups are also receiving support from the greater Turning Point USA chapter.

“We’re definitely doing what we can with our resources to make sure we can flip Minnesota red,” Gibson said.

The state has voted in favor of a Democratic president as far back as Nixon in 1972.

Zoom on the left; business-as-usual on the right

Despite supporting separate sides of the aisle, all groups do face one similar issue: How do you mobilize in a global pandemic?

Both sides have said outside registration efforts, for example — like social media apps linking voter registration pages and other social distance-friendly methods — do help their cause. However, most groups are still stumped on how to effectively campaign while following safety protocols and University Student Unions and Activities rules.

Democratic groups seem keen on keeping with social distancing and COVID-19 safety precautions at all costs, following the lead of the DFL. Sorbe said that virtual events, phone banking and other phone call initiatives have been effective so far.

“Campaigning is definitely looking a little different this year,” Sorbe said. “But the Democratic Party in the DFL is extremely well organized, so digital outreach is definitely still going to be effective in getting Trump out of office.”

Meanwhile, Republican groups seemed to be contemplating more simple, in-person solutions, such as moving potential meetings off-campus or waiting until University restrictions loosen later in the semester. They are currently working on meeting plans and door knocking initiatives for surrounding areas.

“We sent out a poll to a bunch of the people in our club about how they wanted to do it … and over 80% of people said they wanted to meet somewhere off campus and do the meetings in person,” Gibson said. “It’s kind of a ‘got to wait and see and hope for the best’ [situation], I guess.”